TRANSPORT Minister Marios Demetriades said on Thursday he refuses to abandon ship in a storm as a response to calls for his resignation over the problems at Limassol port the handover of the container terminal operations to a private company.
Demetriades has been in the doghouse with opposition parties and workers’ unions over the not-so-smooth transition of operations to the private investor, Eurogate, at the end of January, and for saying that there had been vandalism to equipment prior to the handover. Earlier in the week, opposition parties and unions called for his resignation.
“I won’t surrender the shield. What’s important at the moment, I believe, is to solve the problems concerning something that constitutes a very big reform in our country,” Demetriades told the Cyprus News Agency. He added that in the long-run, the aim is to exceed the productivity levels of the previous port administration.
“We are only a few days after the introduction of this great reform, a very complex one, which has affected the operation […] and at the end of the day we should give it the required time. If in 15, 20 days, one month, we reach higher levels of efficiency, would that be considered a failure?” the minister said.
His role, he said, was to resolve these problems and that’s what he intended on doing.
“I won’t abandon the ship while in a storm. Walking away would be the easy solution. it is not about leaving, it is about fighting for something you believe is right, to be able to benefit your country. That’s what’s important,” Demetriades said.
Commenting on the investigation ordered by the attorney-general into the appointment of former Limassol port master Giorgos Pouros to general manager of the company managing Eurogate’s terminal, Demetriades said that this concerns a private individual who was employed by a private company. “I cannot comment further. An investigation is underway by the attorney-general,” he said.
The probe into Pouros’ case, who until October was working for the Cyprus Ports Authority as port master, was requested by Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides who asked the attorney-general’s office to look into possible conflict of interest.
Demetriades said that he was not aware of the court case against the government filed last week by shipping companies over the new charges introduced at the ports.
Three shipping companies – Amathus Aegeas, Jovanman Agencies and Nakufreight – filed a case with the administrative court against the government, demanding the annulment of a 2017 cabinet decision approving the introduction of new, higher handling charges at the two ports of Limassol and Larnaca sooner than a previous cabinet decision – taken in 2016 – had stipulated, and the annulment of the 2016 cabinet decision on the imposition of new handling charges, as it was approved without consultation with interested parties as the laws provides.
The plaintiffs argued that due to the increased rates, they suffered direct damage and losses as they are losing customers. The case is based on the argument that the cabinet went ahead with approving in 2016 the decree on the increase of charges without consultation with the Cyprus Ports Authority and the House transport committee as the law stipulates.
The companies said that due to this, they were deprived of the right to be heard as affected parties, in the consultations that should have been held by the competent parliamentary committee.
The new charges were introduced on January 29 at the Limassol port and will be in effect at the Larnaca port toward the end of February.
The administrative court, rejected earlier in the week, another, interim, unilateral request of the three companies, to order the freeze of the cabinet decision on the introduction of higher charges until the end of the first case proceedings. The administrative court had said that as this was legal issue, both sides needed to be heard before the appeal to freeze the new rates was examined.
Lawyer Andreas Angelides of the legal firm representing the three companies, told the Cyprus Mail that they disagree with this ruling.